Sunny Golovine

@SunnyGolovine

Build a powerful laptop for development on the cheap

UPDATE: If you want to see how the cost of building this machine stacks up against building a Macbook with the same specs then I suggest checking out my new article: Why I chose a Linux PC instead of opting for a Mac (hint: its the $$$)

Over the summer I had a dilemma: I needed a new laptop. My requirements for this were, it had to be cheap and it had to be powerful. Now there’s a slight problem with that, cheap laptops aren’t powerful and powerful laptops aren’t cheap. Nevertheless I ended up with a laptop that had

  • An Intel Core i5 Processor
  • 16GB of RAM
  • 320GB SSD

And I got all that for less than $400. Here is how I did it.

Now before I go into my build I want to make something abundantly clear. I use this laptop for development, I don’t play games, I don’t edit video. With that said here is how I got a powerful laptop for a price so low.

First thing’s first, forget buying new. A new laptop with the specs I described can easily run $1000-$1500 depending on the model. You can also forget Mac’s as those are very expensive, new or used.

I started by looking for used computer stores in my area, specifically ones that sell off-lease computers. My main reason for buying an off lease laptop is

  1. They are good quality business-class machines: Most off-lease laptops come from companies that buy business or enterprise grade laptops. These are usually very high quality and while brand new they might have retailed for the $1000+, off-lease you can find them for around $250
  2. Some have barely seen any use: This is what I call “dock queen” laptops. An employee that doesn’t travel gets one for their desk, they proceed to dock it and that’s where the machine stays for 95% of it’s lifespan. So while the machine technically is used, things like the keyboard, trackpad, display and other parts of the laptop have barely seen any use.

Now there’s a reason I looked at one in person rather than purchasing online, you wouldn’t buy a used car online sight-unseen. So why would you do the same for a laptop? When I was in the store I saw many beat up or otherwise trashed laptops, but there’s always that one that looks brand new and that’s the one you want to get.

I ended up buying an HP Elitebook 8470p.

The asking price for this laptop was $350 in store however like all places where you buy something used you can haggle a little bit. I ended up buying it with no RAM, Hard Drive or Operating System for $270 out the door after tax. The machine might have an older generation processor and seem a bit dated but with a maximum RAM capacity of 16GB and the ability to add an SSD, it had potential.

From there I hopped on Amazon and started shopping for RAM and an SSD. I bought Crucial’s 16GB Kit for $66 and a Sandisk 240GB SSD for around $40 when it was on sale at Best Buy. After installation it was time for the Operating System.

I put Ubuntu on the machine. For development it’s about as close as you can get without straining your wallet on a Mac or going through the trouble of going the Hackintosh route (which was in option so long as I replaced the network card, add $15 fora compatible network card off Amazon). I could have gone the Windows route but that would have meant forking over another $100 for a license.

So after everything, I got a sturdy aluminum built laptop with a Core i5 Processor, 16GB of ram and a 320GB SSD for a whopping: $376.00

Initially I was concerned about the longevity of a used laptop but close to 5 months on, it will take just about anything I throw at it and I haven’t had any issues with hardware whatsoever.

So if you’re in the market for another laptop consider upgrading used models. It might have some scuffs on it but the bang for the buck value is hard to ignore.

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